My Three Favorite Games of 2011

So, being a busy college student and all, I have had less and less time to play video games as of late. That being said, I have been very lucky this past year, having had the opportunity to play three games that I believe to be among the best I have ever played. I enjoyed each of these games so much that I am having a very difficult time deciding which one was my favorite. Therefore, because I’m such an indecisive person, here are my favorite three games of the year in no particular order. And, no, none of them are Skyrim. I know everybody’s all crazy about that recently, but I haven’t played it. Frankly, it doesn’t really seem like the type of game that interests me anyway. The following games, on the other hand, I was instantly captivated by. I’m not really very good at writing reviews, but I feel like I can give you hypothetical readers a general idea on what I liked about each of these games.

Portal 2

Portal 2

A game where you can literally throw yourself at the ground and miss.

One aspect of gaming that is very important to me is humor. Portal 2 just might be one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. I know that the internet kind of overused the first games jokes, especially those concerning cake. That doesn’t change the fact that this series has some of the best comedic writing I’ve ever seen in gaming. For that matter, this game’s writing is also brilliant just in terms of story telling. Everything about it works for me. The jokes are clever, every element of the plot is foreshadowed and fits perfectly within the context of this universe, and it all leads up to a pretty amazing ending. One of the main complaints I’ve heard about the game is that it’s too short, but I feel that it was the perfect length for the story it was trying to tell. It didn’t fell rushed or dragged out.

The villain is really unique. I like that they went in a different direction with the villain this time around. The first game’s GlaDOS was so memorable that, if they had tried to top her, it just wouldn’t have been the same. And, if they had just used GlaDOS in the same way again, it would have felt like a repeat of what the first game did. That being said, GLaDOS does play an interesting and entertaining role in the game and even gets some character development. We even learn a few things about Chell, the protagonist, even though she’s a silent protagonist. And, of course, all of the robotic characters you meet are very likeable. It’s amazing how much personality they can give to something like Wheatley, just through voice acting and limited range of expressions.

The new puzzle elements, such as the gels and the light bridges, all work perfectly with the portal mechanic and open up many new possibilities. The environments were a bit more diverse than the first time around. Instead of just going through a pristine lab environment for most of the game, you get to see Aperture Labs from a variety of perspectives. It was great seeing the labs repair themselves after being in a state of disrepair for so long and the older areas narrated by Cave Johnson were a nice change of pace. I also really enjoyed the co-op and am looking forward to playing the new DLC when I get the chance. All-in-all, I have virtually no qualms with this game. I think it was solid from beginning to end.

Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City

Rocket Propelled Batman

I haven’t read that many comics, aside from a few graphic novels here and there. Really, the only Batman comics I’ve ever read were The Long Halloween and The Return of Bruce Wayne, both of which I enjoyed. So, I’m not really an expert on the series. That being said, I love the universe that Batman exists in. There’s something about it that I just find endlessly fascinating and I think this game captures that feeling perfectly. I played the first game, Arkham Asylum, just before this one came out and I feel that these really are some of the best licensed games ever. They really seem to understand the series they’re emulating. I feel that Arkham City is the better of the two games because it just feels bigger and more expansive. The plot of this game really pulled me in. They did a great job linking so many characters together into one coherent story. Even the side missions kept me interested, though some did have disappointing payoffs. The entire climax felt epic and contained some legitimately shocking twists.

I think many people will agree with me when I say that the Batman universe had one of the best sets of villains ever. I think it’s probably because they’re more often mental than physical threats. This game incorporated a ton of them and they all worked brilliantly. The Joker, as in the last game, was incredibly entertaining. Mark Hamill’s performance was pretty much perfect and, since he claims that this is the last time he will play the character, I think this is an excellent note for him to go out on. Hugo Strange was interesting, being a different kind of villain when compared to the various inmates. The other villains, such as The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Ra’s al Ghul, The Riddler, and Mr. Zsasz were all pretty fleshed out and had unique roles within the plot. The previous game’s major antagonists, like Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc were all downplayed to make room for the new villains. I feel that this was a pretty good idea on the developers’ part. None of the new villains were as disappointing as Killer Croc in the first game (who had a great buildup, but an incredibly boring final confrontation). Batman’s own story arc in the game was pulled off pretty well too. I just always tend to be more interested by the villains. Learning more about them by finding character bios and audio tapes never got old for me.

In terms of gameplay, everything is basically the same as the first game at the core. This is a good thing, because I liked the first game’s combat system a lot. Both games succeed in making you feel like you’re actually controlling Batman, while still being fairly challenging. This time around, though, there are quite a few new gadgets and combat options that you gain throughout the game. Because of this, there is a lot more variety in the gameplay this time around. There’s also a steep decline in the amount of vents you have to slowly rip off of walls, so that’s nice. The gliding system is pretty fun and makes getting from place to place a lot easier. The Catwoman sections of the game feel pretty different, despite having the same basic controls as Batman. There weren’t really any moments that felt as memorable as the Scarecrow sections from the first game (which were amazing), but that’s probably because there weren’t really any major low points. I was entertained the whole way through the game, and that’s including finding the several hundred hidden Riddler trophies. So, yeah, pretty awesome.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Ancient Lanayru laser beams!

And, of course, you can never go wrong with Zelda. It’s one of the longest running franchises in gaming and there still hasn’t really been a bad one yet. Well, there are those horrible CDi games, but nobody counts those. I think this is most I’ve ever cared about the plot of a Zelda game. It’s a great origin story for a game series that seemed like it would never have one. I mean, the Zelda games were mostly disconnected until they released an official timeline with this game. Of course, knowing Nintendo, they’ll probably just ignore it when the next game comes out. But, yeah, the plot ‘s pretty interesting and actually explains the reason why there are so many different incarnations of the main characters. Lots of moments in this game were pretty funny for those familiar with the franchise. There’s lots of lampshade hanging going on. I especially enjoyed the moments where the game acknowledged that you were basically interfering with people’s lives for your own benefit (“WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!”). The locations and dungeons in the game were all pretty unique, even though they all take place within three basic areas (forest, volcano, desert). This manages not to be repetitive because, whenever the game asks you to go back to a previous area, there is usually a new branch that you can explore, so there aren’t many parts that actually feel like backtracking. The bosses were also pretty cool, especially Koloktos, a giant, blade-wielding, six-armed statue.

The characters were mostly similar to those in previous Zelda games. Many of them have strange personalities and always require your help to fix their problems. I’m a fan of a few of them, though. Batreaux the demon was a pretty cool surprise and the Kikwi elder was strangely amusing. I also liked the design of the little robots. This game’s Zelda is probably my favorite out of all her incarnations in the Zelda games I’ve played. I like that she actually has an active role in the plot, rather than being immediately captured like in most versions. Fi, the helper character for this game, wasn’t too annoying. She actually had a few funny moments and I liked her by the end. I do wish she would stop telling me when my health gets low though. I wasn’t a fan of the the game’s main villain, Lord Ghirahim, at first. I just don’t like his design very much. However, I found him more and more entertaining as the game progressed. He’s pretty fun in a campy way and he seems to grow more and more insane with each appearance. Link, of course, is pretty much a blank slate, but he does show more personality here than in most incarnations. My favorite character of the game, though, was Groose. I love that guy. He’s the self-absorbed school bully and is like some sort of strange mix between Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, Biff from Back to the Future, and Zap Brannigan from Futurama. He gets a surprising amount of character development and depth by the end of the game, though.

The gameplay works pretty well. It does feel like the sword follows your motions pretty accurately. There were only a few moments where I felt that it wasn’t working the way I intended it to. All of the items use motion controls in various ways, usually by pointing, and I think they were all pretty well incorporated. The Beetle is my favorite of all of the games items, which is good because it’s one of the first ones you get. It just makes it a lot easier to explore areas you can’t actually reach, so you can get an idea of what you’re supposed to do. The puzzles using these items were often pretty clever, but I never really got stuck on any one part for too long. In terms of puzzles, I particularly enjoyed anything having to do with timeshift stones. This lets you warp a small area of the game back to the distant past (which is actually more futuristic-looking) and I think this is where the game’s art style is most appealing. So, yeah,  everything about this game was pretty amazing, just like the other two, so it was a great way for me to cap off my year of gaming.

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